Cover Story

In 1980, the school was singled out by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) as being a model graduate program for other schools.

“Indiana University, through its School of Public and Environmental Affairs, has accepted the challenge of conceiving, designing, and managing a singular program for the differing needs of various parts of the state of Indiana,” a NASPAA report read. “It has done so in a fashion which maintains quality, assures transferability of student work, and standardizes the meaning of the degree while serving well the various clienteles.”

A NASPAA poll of its 250 member schools during this same time saw SPEA rank first in published research and fourth in overall peer prestige.

SPEA celebrated its 10th anniversary with the opening of its new home and a yearlong celebration. The school had grown from 25 students in the first graduating class to 351 in 1982, and the number of faculty more than doubled from 41 to 90 in that same span.

In 1987, founding dean Bonser stepped down and A. James Barnes, former deputy administrator for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, was selected as the new dean. Under Barnes’ leadership, SPEA was selected as the Midwestern Regional Center for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Institute for Global Environmental Change to address the growing discussion of climate change.

In 1994, the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at both IU Bloomington and IUPUI played critical roles in the Parliamentary Development Project for Ukraine, a partnership with the country that has grown over time. The Center on Urban Policy and the Environment also was established at IUPUI.

Enrollment continued to expand, and when SPEA celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1997, it included more than 100 full-time faculty, 600 graduate students, and 1,600 undergraduate students, making it the largest school of its kind.

The school also reached No. 3 in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of “America’s Top Graduate Schools” in 1998, the highest-ranked graduate program at IU that year.

“We are delighted, of course, that the quality of the program we have put together is recognized,” said Barry Rubin, the associate dean of graduate programs in Bloomington. “In our 25-year existence, we have made strides in developing a program that is nationally ranked. Our faculty have been very productive as researchers and scholars.”

After leading the school for 12 years, Barnes stepped down as dean in 2000. Barnes’ ability to recruit fresh faculty talent had encouraged interdisciplinary collaboration and expanded SPEA’s footprint at IU and on national and global scales.

“I feel very good about the school’s position,” Barnes said. “We are in company with Harvard and Princeton, so we have good people and good programs. I think it makes sense to turn it over to someone else at this point.”

That someone else was Astrid Merget, a former senior advisor to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton administrations.

“I know both Barnes and Bonser,” Merget said. “My vision builds on their visions. Each advanced the school significantly to a position of national recognition. My goal is to capitalize on their vision and project the school into the 21st century.”



Jayma Meyer, BSPA’75

Jayma Meyer was in the first graduating class of the O’Neill School.

“At that time, the school was still figuring out who to be. I too was trying to figure who to be, having just finished a swimming career that consumed four hours a day, six days a week,” said Meyer. “I immediately felt right at home when I went to my first meeting with the faculty in the Poplars Building in a room with a swimming pool covered with boards. I watched with great joy the evolution of the school to having its own building and then to expanding the building with the generous support of Paul O’Neill.

“The O’Neill School’s emphasis on solving public problems inspired and gave me skills to tackle consumer protection and antitrust problems and gender equity issues in sports for the greater good—to dream big!”

Since 2015, Meyer has taught sports law and public policy as a visiting clinical professor at the O’Neill School.


Pam Matson, MSES’80

Pam Matson served as dean of Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences from 2002–17. She is now an active emeritus professor and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

As a student she loved being able to take courses in ecosystem ecology and geomorphology alongside economics and systems modeling. She values the O’Neill School’s engagement in both the science and practice of environment and sustainability challenges. She always recommends the O’Neill School to her students.

“In many ways, the O’Neill School set me on the path that I am still on today—as an interdisciplinary, systems thinker who understands the pursuit of sustainability solutions requires an understanding of not just one part of the complex social-environmental systems in which we live, but of all the interconnected parts,” Matson said. “A new policy or a new technology or a new management approach alone won’t help much; we need systemic change.”

She did just that, and in 2004, SPEA continued to be ranked No. 3 in the country by the U.S. News & World Report. Several programs both at IU Bloomington and IUPUI were highly ranked, including

No. 1 rankings for the nonprofit management program and environmental policy and management program.

Merget grew the school’s program portfolio, including the arts administration program, and helped solidify SPEA’s reputation with the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management editorship. The school’s overseas education program grew via a partnership with the University of Oxford.

Merget stepped down as dean in 2007, and in 2008, John D. Graham, a former top official with the White House Office of Management and Budget, was named the school’s fourth dean. He quickly established a Dean’s Council that included respected leaders from business, government, and the nonprofit sector. He also expanded SPEA’s overseas education programs to include Germany, Spain, China, and other locations.

Construction of the IU School of Business and SPEA building in Indianapolis.

The whole world noticed SPEA in 2009 when Elinor Ostrom, a SPEA professor and Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science in the IU College of Arts and Sciences, became the first woman honored with the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

By the time SPEA celebrated its 40th anniversary, its reputation was known the world over.

“It’s widely admired nationally,” said then-IU President Michael A. McRobbie. “It is one of the academic jewels in the university’s crown.”

SPEA continued to rise in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, sharing the No. 2 overall spot with Harvard’s Kennedy School in 2011, and the school ranked No. 1 in environmental policy and management and in nonprofit management. Meanwhile, the Civic Leaders Living Learning Center was established at Briscoe Quadrangle in 2012.

SPEA made headlines in March 2014 when Paul O’Neill, who earned his MPA from IU in 1966 and was former Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush, gave a $3 million gift, the largest private donation in the school’s history to that point, to partially fund a new graduate center. The three-story structure would change the face of SPEA and revision the courtyard between the SPEA building and the Kelley School of Business. David and Cecile Wang donated $1 million to name the second-floor study and meeting space.

SPEA reached a major milestone in 2016 when U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the best graduate schools listed SPEA in the top spot. The MPA ranked No. 1, and specializations in environmental policy and management, nonprofit management, and public finance and budgeting ranked No. 1 as well.

Washington Leadership Program students, circa 1987.

“This is a momentous day for Indiana University and for SPEA,” Graham said. “To be ranked as the top program in the nation, ahead of legendary programs such as Harvard and Princeton, is a crowning achievement for our faculty and staff.”

In honor of a $30 million gift, the school was renamed the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs in 2019. The gift provides support for the Paul H. O’Neill Center on Leadership in Public Service; a dean’s initiatives fund; three faculty chair positions; five professorships; a fellowship program for master’s, doctoral, and postdoctoral students; and a scholarship program, which will continue in perpetuity.

“I am honored to now have the opportunity to give back to this exemplary institution, which means so much to me,” O’Neill said. “My hope is that the school remains a place of excellence where future leaders can combine passion with action and develop the confidence they need to engage with society’s greatest challenges and opportunities.”


Marsialle Arbuckle, BSPA’81

Marsialle Arbuckle’s major in public policy opened the door to opportunities in both the public and private sectors. The integration of economics, finite mathematics, statistics, and public finance prepared him to join Ford Motor Company as a statistical analyst. After nearly three decades of working in the automotive industry, he decided to shift his career and launch a nonprofit foundation to work with youth transitioning out of the foster care system.

“The support provided by the O’Neill School has been nothing short of tremendous, leading the foundation to become an award-winning entity with a proven track record of success,” Arbuckle said. “This was accomplished by participating in various workshops and collaborating with students and professors on projects.”

Arbuckle made lifelong connections with other students as well as with faculty, staff, and alumni. He said, “The moral of my story … get engaged, stay engaged … it’s truly rewarding!”


Michael S. Russo, BSPA’84

Michael Russo is the director of global security at Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis and is responsible for the physical security of all company facilities in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific, as well as the safety of Lilly travelers and expatriate employees. He also leads investigations into counterfeit, stolen, and diverted drugs in those areas.

Russo was an O’Neill student in Indianapolis in the ’80s when the school was still establishing itself both within IU and nationally. But it was clear to him that the O’Neill School was destined for greatness.

“The O’Neill School benefitted and enhanced my career,” said Russo. “It exposed me to diverse thought, taught me the benefits of listening, and gave me the confidence and skills necessary to work on complex problems and better understand and collaborate with people across the globe. I had several professors who made the school a wonderful place to learn.”

Graham stepped down as dean in 2019, and was followed by Siân Mooney, Arizona State University associate dean for interdisciplinary programs and initiatives.

“The O’Neill School’s great strength is its unique ability to support science in service to society,” Mooney said. “The O’Neill School’s alumni have a long record of leadership and accomplishments, creating and implementing public policies that make a positive difference for Indiana and beyond.”

The O’Neill School continued to make headlines, including O’Neill School Distinguished Professor David Audretsch being named a Clarivate Citation Laureate. The school also established a chapter of the NextGen Leadership Program to develop leadership skills and public service interest in students.

During its 50 years, the O’Neill School has become one of the most respected institutions in the nation and the world. Its reputation has been built on stable leadership, visionary faculty, and driven students who have taken the lessons learned in the classroom and applied them to solve complex problems to make a difference for the greater good.

Growing our future

Greens growing

As we celebrate our past 50 years, we are also preparing for the next 50 years and beyond. The O’Neill Alumni Board established the Future Fund in 2018 to raise at least $50,000. All donations to this unique and innovative fund will be invested and gain interest until the 100th anniversary of the school. From 2072 to 2075, the O’Neill administration will spend all funds in the account on the school’s most pressing needs—the amount is estimated to reach $1 million!

Thanks to the generosity of alumni and friends like you, we have reached $50,000 for the Future Fund. We greatly appreciate your support and investment in the future of the O’Neill School.

If you would like to contribute to the Future Fund—thereby increasing the impact we will make in 2072—you may do so for the remainder of this school year.

Make your donation online